Somewhere along the way, we westerners have wholeheartedly embraced the notion that the holidays are supposed to be about having wonderful, cozy, nurturing and loving times with our families. Holding onto that thought can be depressing. As if all the tension, stress and dysfunctionality that we may have experienced with various members of our family could suddenly disappear in the twinkling of Santa’s eye. If only. James Hillman, renowned Jungian analyst, addressed the unreasonable expectations we, as a culture, have placed on ourselves and our families in his book, The Myth of Families. He explores where this has stemmed from and why. The longings and yearnings of hundreds of thousands of people across nations post World War II for a better, more perfect world has had a tremendously shaping influence on our parents’ and grandparents’ psyches. The sobering reality of what these World Wars and all subsequent wars have cost us in the last century makes the desire for peace in our families and in our world all the more poignant. Understandably this all comes to a head during the holidays when we have to face into the realization that we are still not at a peace with some members of our family and may never be. The wounds of the past may never get healed and we are still not speaking to this family member or that ex. Somehow all the relentless cheeriness makes it all feel much worse and we realize how difficult it is to be truly at peace with oneself (never mind with HER or with HIM).
Don’t get me wrong. I am not the Christmas Grinch or the Hanukkah Harpie, but I am a proponent of self forgiveness. It is important to keep expectations minimal and to continually look for ways to simplify things. If you are one of those many people who finds these holiday times very trying, stressful or depressing, consider working on one of these things to foster the light and love in your own soul.
photo by Peter Buchanan
Be generous. One of the best, tried and true methods for uplifting the spirits is to do something genuinely kind for someone in need – especially someone who is worse off than you. If you don’t have a neighbor in need, make a donation to help refugees or the homeless, or volunteer at a local church or synagogue or mosque. You will be surprised at how much of a lift it gives you. Think Scrooge in the Christmas Carol.
Expand your notion of family. Sometimes the family you have been born into is not your tribe. I have come to see that the family you have been born into is where you get to work out a lot of the karma you have had to deal with in this life, but as you mature you begin to realize that the true friends you have are the ones who bring you the most comfort and solace in your life. This is a time to celebrate with the family of your heart, whoever they may be.
Bring the sacred into your life. Create time and space to meditate without having to get it ‘right’. If you haven’t created a special space to meditate, set up a little corner in your room that is dedicated to this purpose. Keep it clean and make it beautiful with a few special objects that have meaning for you. Give yourself the gift of sitting there for at least 10 or 15 minutes a day or more. Making it into a little ritual strengthens the intention and prepares you to enter sacred space. This could include taking a shower, bringing a cup of tea or coffee with you, bringing a plant or some flowers to your space, lighting some incense and a candle. You will soon find that when you sit, there is a deep sigh of peace and satisfaction that comes with entering your sacred zone. Don’t feel that you have to be the perfect meditator. Initially, you are just going there to relax, let down, de-stress. You might incorporate a few gentle stretches, but this is not a workout. Just imagine that you are going to a special place (however you might visualize that) and then as you sit, just see if you can notice the thoughts that float in. Don’t fight with them, but as soon as you notice that you are having a thought, the thought starts to release and float on through. If it is particularly persistent, just tell the thought that you will come back to it later. Repeating a mantra can be very helpful as can simply observing the breath. The main thing is that this is a time for you to be at one with your Self and to replenish, just by being in your sacred space.
Bring beauty into your life and smile. Look for beauty around you and honour it as sacred. Honour it with your smile. It’s amazing what smiling can do for you emotionally, spiritually and psychologically. Let the smile start in your heart. When you imagine the smile starting in your heart, your whole being starts to open like a flower. When you smile at the people around you they will respond without realizing why the energy has shifted. Like bees to honey. When you let a smile start in your heart, you are becoming a little microcosm of light and love. Listening to classical music is another beautiful way to change the atmosphere and recharge your brain. There have been many studies done to demonstrate what a powerful and healing effect classical music has on the brain. Find the classical music that you love and allow it to work its magic on you.
Simplify. Find ways to streamline and simplify things at this busy time of year. Make that a priority. Potluck dinners are a great way to share the load at family get-togethers. Don’t let one person bear the burden. Try and find ways to simplify gift-giving – such as the many variations on the Secret Santa or the round robin type of gift exchange – or better still make a group donation to a charity in need. (See No. 1) The best gifts are the gifts of your presence, your energy and your love.
Practise compassion with silence. Sometimes the hardest thing to do in family gatherings is to bite your tongue. The boiling pot of karma that we are in, often coupled with the flowing of wine or spirits, can trigger unbridled self expression and rough or sarcastic words. It is good to remember the epithet: Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true? And of course this latter one must be considered along with the question – whose truth?
Be grateful. Practising gratitude is one of the most profoundly spiritual practices, because it takes you out of the place of deficit and into the open heart. For the most part we are either in a state of expansion or contraction as we go through our lives. At any given moment you can notice which state you are in and make a choice. Look for beauty and smile.
From time immemorial, across cultures, this time of a year has been celebrated as the birth of light into the heart of darkness. It is a difficult thing to find the light when we are feeling down, and yet, everything in nature tells us that at the darkest hour, and in the darkest season, the darkest place, the light can come – we know not how or from where, but it will come.
Listen to Leonard Cohen’s marvelous song about the Refugee – Anthem. It speaks to the birth of light.